x

NEW UPDATE: Completed trials may now upload and register supplementary documents (e.g. null results reports, populated pre-analysis plans, or post-trial results reports) in the Post Trial section under Reports, Papers, & Other Materials.
Incidence of an Emotional Tax: The Case of Calorie Menu Labeling
Last registered on August 27, 2018

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Incidence of an Emotional Tax: The Case of Calorie Menu Labeling
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0003268
Initial registration date
August 27, 2018
Last updated
August 27, 2018 11:17 PM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Wyoming
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2017-01-30
End date
2017-04-30
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Traditionally, information has been assumed to never harm consumers, a notion recently challenged. Salience nudges have been argued to evoke negative emotions, therefore acting as “emotional taxes.” We examine the emotional and consumer welfare impact of a calorie salience nudge (calorie menu labeling) – a policy implemented nationwide in the U.S. in 2018. We use a theoretical framework and a hypothetical restaurant meal experiment. We find a calorie salience nudge may act as an emotional tax, but only for some – there is considerable heterogeneity in the emotional response to the nudge. We also find that this heterogeneity is helpful -- the nudge emotionally taxes people with low eating self-control, while it emotionally subsidizes those with higher levels of eating self-control. Similarly, we find that overall consumer welfare increases with the calorie salience nudge, but that the short-term welfare impact ranges from negative to positive. People with low self-control short-term negatively value the salience nudge. This also presents the risk of people with low self-control avoiding the nudge and losing out on its long-term benefits. People with high self-control positively value the nudge. We find no distributional effects over income from the calorie salience nudge.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Thunstrom, Linda. 2018. "Incidence of an Emotional Tax: The Case of Calorie Menu Labeling ." AEA RCT Registry. August 27. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.3268-1.0.
Former Citation
Thunstrom, Linda. 2018. "Incidence of an Emotional Tax: The Case of Calorie Menu Labeling ." AEA RCT Registry. August 27. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/3268/history/33520.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Subjects were placed in a hypothetical restaurant meal scenario. The experiment entailed three treatments -- one where subjects received no information on calorie content in their food, one where they did receive the information, and one where they could chose to either obtain or avoid the information. Subjects were randomized into one of these treatments.
Intervention Start Date
2017-01-30
Intervention End Date
2017-04-30
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Feelings evoked by calorie information and WTP for calorie information.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Feelings evoked by the calorie information is measured primarily using a categorical variable that classifies these feelings as positive, negative or neutral. The WTP measure is a continuous variable based on a "standard" multiple choice list, see below.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
The change in demand for high calorie meals.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
The change in high calorie meal demand is measured by changes in the WTP for the preferred meal (which is, by design, always the high calorie one). To extract the WTP, we again use a "standard" multiple price list, see below.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The experiment consists of a hypothetical meal scenario that places subjects in a restaurant situation, with a friend. Subjects were asked to choose between two meals (creamy shrimp pasta or meatballs and pasta), shown on pictures. They were informed one meal contains 500 calories and the other 1000 calories, but that they would not know which one, unless they got calorie information.

The experiment entailed three treatments -- one where subjects received no information on calorie content in their food, one where they did receive the information, and one where they could chose to either obtain or avoid the information. Before being randomized into these treatments, subjects answered a set of questions common to all subjects.

All subjects were asked to rate the expected taste of both meals from 1=very bad to 5=very good.

To enable us to measure how subjects’ change in demand for a high calorie meal when provided calorie information, we designed the experiment such that the favorite meal chosen by a subject was always be the high-calorie meal, i.e., if a subject chose shrimp (meatballs) as their favorite meal, they were directed into a version of the experiment survey where shrimp (meatballs) was the high calorie meal.

Subjects were asked about how they would feel about getting calorie information in this meal situation. They could state both positive and negative emotions along a 7 grade scale (1=very good, 7=very bad and 4=neutral, as implied by smiley faces).

Subjects were asked about their preference for calorie information in this particular meal situation.

Subjects’ Willingness to pay (WTP) for calorie information was thereafter elicited using a multiple-price-list, entailing pairwise choices of no information/information, while varying meal prices (e.g., “Which would you prefer? (i) Calorie information + pay $12 for a meal at the restaurant, (ii) No calorie information + pay $12.50 for a meal at the restaurant,” etc.).

Subjects were thereafter asked about their marginal WTP for their favorite meal (i.e., the high calorie meal). At this stage of the survey, subjects were also randomized into one of three treatment groups – (1) exogenous calorie information, (2) endogenous calorie information, (3) no calorie information. Subjects in the exogenous information treatment were informed on the calorie content of the meals (1000 calories in their favorite meal, 500 in the other meal). Subjects in the endogenous information treatment were asked to choose if they wanted costless calorie content of the meals before stating their marginal WTP for the high calorie meal. Subjects in the no information treatment were given no calorie information before stating their marginal WTP for the high calorie meal.

Finally, all subjects answered a battery of questions measuring eating self-control, general health and health attitudes, as well as common demographics, eating self-control, age, and income.
Experimental Design Details
The experiment consists of a hypothetical meal scenario that places subjects in a restaurant situation, with a friend. Subjects were asked to choose between two meals (creamy shrimp pasta or meatballs and pasta), shown on pictures. They were informed one meal contains 500 calories and the other 1000 calories, but that they would not know which one, unless they got calorie information. The experiment entailed three treatments -- one where subjects received no information on calorie content in their food, one where they did receive the information, and one where they could chose to either obtain or avoid the information. Before being randomized into these treatments, subjects answered a set of questions common to all subjects. All subjects were asked to rate the expected taste of both meals from 1=very bad to 5=very good. To enable us to measure how subjects’ change in demand for a high calorie meal when provided calorie information, we designed the experiment such that the favorite meal chosen by a subject was always be the high-calorie meal, i.e., if a subject chose shrimp (meatballs) as their favorite meal, they were directed into a version of the experiment survey where shrimp (meatballs) was the high calorie meal. Subjects were asked about how they would feel about getting calorie information in this meal situation. They could state both positive and negative emotions along a 7 grade scale (1=very good, 7=very bad and 4=neutral, as implied by smiley faces). Subjects were asked about their preference for calorie information in this particular meal situation. Subjects’ Willingness to pay (WTP) for calorie information was thereafter elicited using a multiple-price-list, entailing pairwise choices of no information/information, while varying meal prices (e.g., “Which would you prefer? (i) Calorie information + pay $12 for a meal at the restaurant, (ii) No calorie information + pay $12.50 for a meal at the restaurant,” etc.). Subjects were thereafter asked about their marginal WTP for their favorite meal (i.e., the high calorie meal). At this stage of the survey, subjects were also randomized into one of three treatment groups – (1) exogenous calorie information, (2) endogenous calorie information, (3) no calorie information. Subjects in the exogenous information treatment were informed on the calorie content of the meals (1000 calories in their favorite meal, 500 in the other meal). Subjects in the endogenous information treatment were asked to choose if they wanted costless calorie content of the meals before stating their marginal WTP for the high calorie meal. Subjects in the no information treatment were given no calorie information before stating their marginal WTP for the high calorie meal. Finally, all subjects answered a battery of questions measuring eating self-control, general health and health attitudes, as well as common demographics, eating self-control, age, and income.
Randomization Method
Randomization into one of the three treatments was done by the computer software, Qualtrics, used for the study.
Randomization Unit
Each subject was randomized into one of the three treatments.
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
None.
Sample size: planned number of observations
Our planned number of subjects was 400 subjects in total. Due to oversampling by the recruitment firm (Qualtrics), our final number ended up being 417 subjects.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Treatments:
1. No info: 105 subjects
2. Exogenous info: 209 subjects
3. Endogenous info: 103
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS